What Your Dentist Knows About Your Overall Health

Everyone knows that flossing, brushing, and regular cleanings and checkups are all essential to maintaining a healthy smile. Are you aware, however, that your oral health is also a reflection of your overall physical well-being? A biannual visit to your dentist can reveal signs of diabetes, heart disease, oral cancers and other no-symptom conditions that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Gum disease is typically a sign that a patient is not practicing a good oral hygiene regimen. However, it can also be a sign of undiagnosed diabetes. In fact, gum disease is the most common dental condition for diabetics. Patients with undiagnosed diabetes are prone to this condition because they have a decreased ability to fight bacterial infections. Serious gum disease can also make controlling blood sugar more difficult. Your dentist will likely refer you for further testing if he or she suspects that you might be diabetic. In addition to gum disease, diabetics also suffer from bleeding gums, loose teeth, and have a slower healing time. Therefore, these patients are advised to schedule exams every two or three months.

Researchers have also discovered a number of links between gum diseases like periodontitis and heart problems. One study found that up to 91 percent of patients with heart disease also have periodontitis. Bacteria in your gums can travel to the heart and contribute to coronary artery disease. It can also contribute to the formation of plaque in your arteries and interfere with blood flow. Oral care professionals recommend that you receive advice from your primary care physician about a diagnosis of gum disease if your family history includes heart disease or stroke.

Mouth cancers are another type of disease that your dentist or oral hygienist might notice before you do. These cancers are usually asymptomatic. Furthermore, they start as a small spot under the tongue or at the back of the mouth, making them extremely difficult to notice. A cancer screening should be part of your routine exam, particularly if you smoke or use tobacco products of any kind, drink heavily or have been diagnosed with oral cancer in the past. The goal of the screening is to catch any cancerous cells early when there is a greater chance of a cure. Screenings are simple and painless. Your hygienist or dentist will look inside your mouth and under your tongue for red or white spots or mouth sores. A biopsy may be ordered if anything suspicious is found.

The condition of your teeth might give your dentist clues about other medical conditions. Eroded enamel and sensitive teeth are signs of anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Additionally, erosion on the insides of the teeth is a possible indicator of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Loosening of the bones supporting the teeth can also be an early warning sign of osteoporosis. Finally, declining oral hygiene may also indicate early dementia.

Maintaining a healthy smile is an important reason not to skip your twice-yearly oral exam. Early detection of curable or treatable diseases provides extra incentive to keep that appointment.

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